The seven Top Gear presenters that time forgot

Angela Rippon? Vicki Butler-Henderson? Noel Edmonds? And on that bombshell...

Top Gear Richard Hammond Jeremy Clarkson James May
On that bombshell Top Gear's old guard. Image Picture BBC Pictures

The rebooted Top Gear is fast approaching, and with it a lot of teething problems if the tabloids are to be believed.

Chris Evans apparently can’t talk and drive. Evans gets carsick and throws up mid-filming. BBC top brass aren’t sold on Evans’ relatively unknown co-hosts Sabine Schmitz and Chris Harris, either. Whether all this is true or not, it does look as if the BBC’s biggest money-spinner is having teething problems ever since Jeremy Clarkson didn’t get his dinner.

It all used to be so different. Pre-2002, which first saw the Clarkson/Hammond/May trio, Top Gear was a fairly straightforward car magazine show. Yes, totally free of whacky stunts, stars in reasonably priced cars and casual xenophobia.

Don’t believe us? Revisit the original Top Gear with these seven presenters you (probably) forgot about.


1

Angela Rippon

Fresh from her Morecambe And Wise Christmas dance, Angela Rippon fronted the very first series of Top Gear from BBC studios in Birmingham in 1977. Initially only broadcast in the Midlands, Rippon thrilled viewers with reports on driving conditions on the route from the BBC’s Shepherd’s Bush HQ to Birmingham. The initial nine-episode run also featured items on fuel economy, road signs and speed traps. Scintillating.

2

Julia Bradbury

A Top Gear host for a brief moment in the late 90s, Bradbury went on to appear in just about every single BBC TV show you can think of. Watchdog? Julia did it. The One Show? Guest host. Countryfile? Yep, Julia was fronting that with Matt Baker up until 2014. After leaving the BBC in 2014, she’s now on ITV’s books and was last seen hosting 2015’s The Wonder Of Britain.

3

Brendan Coogan

There aren’t many Coogans doing the rounds in the entertainment industry, and sure enough Brendan happens to be the younger brother of Steve and The Mock Turtles singer Martin. He briefly hosted Top Gear in 1999 after Jeremy Clarkson’s first departure, but found himself (understandably) sacked after a drink-driving conviction. Seven years later he returned to motoring TV as host of Sky One’s Vroom Vroom (no, us neither).

4

Noel Edmonds

Yes, Angela Rippon was replaced as the face of Top Gear in 1979 by the bearded overlord of House Party, Deal Or No Deal and Noel’s HQ (Remember that show? Jesus…) His Partridge-esque wittering saw him trundle around the Silverstone track in his Ford GT40 and deliver a damning verdict on the Fiat Strada. “I’ve stared at this for ages… to me it looks like a young child wearing really unfortunate National Health specs.” Pretty much Clarkson’s entire tenure right there in that sentence, to be fair.

5

Kate Humble

Another omnipresent TV face, Humble hosted Top Gear from 1999 to 2000 and even appeared in water-based offshoot Top Gear Waterworld – which had nothing to do with Kevin Costner, though it too was a flop. After that, Humble presented reality TV trailblazer Shipwrecked before reinventing herself as one of the BBC’s go-to hosts for all things wildlife and science.

6

Marian Foster

You’d never believe it. The face of Pebble Mill presented Top Gear. This was mainly due to a locational quirk rather than any great love of cars. With Foster at the helm of The One Show precursor Pebble Mill through the 70s and 80s in Birmingham, she did some moonlighting on Top Gear in 1980. She’s still a loyal BBC presenter to this day, hosting a decidedly low-octane Sunday gardening show for BBC Radio Newcastle.

7

Vicki Butler-Henderson

A racing licence and a background writing for motoring magazines What Car and Max Power meant Butler-Henderson was a perfect fit for Top Gear when she joined in 1997. After the BBC canned the car show in 2001 in favour of the laddy Clarkson reboot, Vicki and co-hosts Quentin Willson and Tiff Needell shifted over to Five to present Fifth Gear. That’s still going strong to this day, showing new episodes on ITV4 with Butler-Henderson still among the presenting team. So she’s lasted longer than Clarkson, and she’s not fussy about her tea.

Previous Post
Next Post

Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

contribute